UCC marriage equality advocates celebrate as New Jersey becomes number 14
Written by Connie N. Larkman October 21, 2013
Midnight on Monday, Oct. 21 brought marriage equality to New Jersey, and the Rev. Ann Ralosky, pastor of First Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Montclair, N.J., was more than happy to usher it in.
"I'm thrilled to tell you that I presided over a wedding of two men from our congregation at 12:01 this morning," Ralosky wrote. "For me, this was a moment of great joy – and of history. It was a privilege to preside over the legal marriage of two people who had been in a committed and loving relationship for 22 years. The love was there, the commitment was there, but the protection of the law was not."
The grooms, Peter Wert and Thomas Rose, were not sure they would be able to make it legal then, but they wanted to try. "Because of the future of uncertainly facing so many others in our position, it was important to make a statement and put a face to it," Wert said.
After the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to delay the decision of a lower court ruling that affirmed marriage equality, same-sex couples in New Jersey began getting married at midnight. Later that morning, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie decided not to stand in the way, announcing he would drop his appeal to stop the weddings from happening.
"Although the governor strongly disagrees with the court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people, the court has now spoken clearly as to their view of the New Jersey constitution and, therefore, same-sex marriage is the law," a spokesman for the governor said.
Christie, a long-time opponent to marriage equality, vetoed the law when it was first passed by the New Jersey legislature in February 2012. He argued that marriage equality should be up for a popular vote and had appealed the decision of a state judge, who on Sept. 27 decided that the New Jersey constitution doesn't allow the state to bar same-sex couples from wedding. As his state became the 14th to recognize marriage equality, the Republican governor decided it was clear his challenge wouldn't hold.
"It wasn't our intention to make a statement, but we were planning on getting married by the end of the year, so we decided to do it the first moment the law became effective," Wert said. "We've been together 8,150 days since we met. We could have gotten married other places, but it's about being accepted where we are, and we ended up with a beautiful ceremony."
The couple took their vows with their 10-year-old twins, Benjamin & Dominique Rose, as witnesses, surrounded by 50 or 60 friends from their community.
"What this tells me is that the state has finally caught up to what we have known for a long time in our church: marriages strengthen families and communities," said Ralosky. "They magnify the love of God in a special way and it was just beautiful to be a part of it."
The UCC's General Synod affirmed full marriage equality for all couples in 2005, making it the first mainline Protestant denomination to allow same-sex marriages in the United States. The General Synod also stated that government should not interfere with couples who choose to marry, and instead should share full equality in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriages. There are now more than 1,000 open and affirming churches registered with the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns.
UCC Central Atlantic Conference Minister the Rev. John Deckenback is delighted that marriage equality has finally come to his childhood home state. "United Church of Christ ministers and members through their public statements, demonstrations, and legislative testimony and have long advocated for full inclusion," Deckenback said."We feel blessed that marriage equality is now legal within the Central Atlantic Conference from Washington, D.C. to northern New Jersey."
New Jersey joins 13 others states, along with Washington, D.C., in permitting same-sex marriages: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.